Maryland would become the first state to list the homeless as a class protected from hate crimes under legislation that is headed to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk.The homeless are one of the most disproportionately targeted groups for violent crime: There is a significant LGBTQI homeless youth population in America who are at high risk for assault, homeless women are at elevated risk of sexual assault, and homeless people of any demographic are frequently subject to extreme violence like being set on fire, merely because they are incredibly vulnerable. This bill is not only groundbreaking but desperately needed.
The groundbreaking measure, championed by one of the legislature's most conservative Republicans, was approved in the House of Delegates four minutes before the General Assembly adjourned at midnight Monday. O'Malley (D) is reviewing the bill, which also adds penalties for violent crimes against people targeted because of their gender or disability.
Advocates called the law a symbolic and practical victory in the absence of similar protections in federal law and spoke of the often vicious crimes against the homeless.
If you're perplexed by the idea that a conservative Republican, someone who would generally consider any hate crimes legislation anathema to his political ideology, championed this bill, well, no one's more surprised than that conservative Republican himself:
Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) says his first attempt to pass the bill, four years ago, was motivated by cynicism: He was offended by legislation adding sexual orientation to the list of protected categories, which also covers race, religion and national origin.Imagine that.
He proposed no fewer than 10 failed amendments to that bill, trying to add civil rights leaders, doctors, lawyers, veterans, nurses and others to homosexuals and offending many of his Democratic colleagues.
"I said, 'If we're going to open up this bottle, let's consider lots of other groups that don't have powerful lobbies in Annapolis,' " he said.
He was criticized for advocating for a group whose interests many believed he didn't take seriously.
"They weren't sure if he was doing it to score rhetorical points or because he believed in this issue," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), the Judiciary Committee chairman.
Mooney is one of the Senate's staunchest opponents of gay rights, abortion, illegal immigration and government intrusion in private lives.
He said he started taking the homeless issue to heart after he watched a television clip in which a group of homeless people was beaten to death with baseball bats. "I realized homeless people are vulnerable people," Mooney said.
[H/T to Shaker Siobhan.]